Editorial - Why teachers should be at the top of the podium

8th August 2014 at 01:00

The new National qualifications are just like the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Discuss.

1. Both sought to escape the looming shadow of previous failures. The 2010 Games in Delhi were dogged by corruption claims, soaring budgets, drug cheats, absent stars and empty stadiums. A decade earlier, the Scottish Qualifications Authority suffered its annus horribilis when exam reform resulted in thousands of late or wrong results and 147,000 certificates having to be rechecked.

2. The build-up to both was far from smooth. Glasgow 2014 flirted with the idea of blowing up social housing in the name of entertainment, top athletes seemed reluctant to commit and the ticketing website buckled under the weight of demand. Meanwhile, teachers were struggling through barrow-loads of confusing documentation and training that was decried by union leaders as "a shambles", in order to prepare pupils for the new qualifications.

3. All things told, both seemed to turn out pretty well.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Commonwealth Games were a 12-day splurge of national positivity but it will be years before we can tell whether they had a lasting impact. It will be only a few weeks, however, before a clearer picture emerges around the Nationals.

The implementation of the new qualifications has made comparisons with past years pretty unenlightening. When pupils pour back into school for the new term this month, their testimony may be the most accurate barometer of success.

Certainly no glaring cock-ups have emerged over the summer. As results landed on doormats and in inboxes this week, parent groups and teaching unions declared themselves fairly content with how the National 4 and 5 exams panned out in the end. Even opposition politicians struggled to muster much complaint. Meanwhile, the Higher seems to be ticking along nicely, with nearly 10,000 more entries this year and a stable rate of A-C passes (although the new Higher will kick in from this coming year and is already bringing with it a whole new suite of anxieties).

Young Scots did well, too, at Glasgow 2014. Sporting prowess and ingenuous charm made stars of boxer Charlie Flynn and swimmers Erraid Davies and Ross Murdoch. Their performances have been described as the dawn of a new era of physical health and surging confidence in Scotland. The truth is that elite sporting success makes us feel good for a while but the effects tend not to last.

If you want to find a longer-lasting influence, turn to our schools. Thousands of teachers across the country have spent the past year battling through tsunamis of paperwork to ensure that their pupils got grades every bit as good as those of their predecessors. These unheralded heroes may not be rewarded with glittering chunks of metal, but at least they know that the feel-good factor they create can last a lifetime.



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